Resilience describes how a person deals with adversity. Resilience is not some rare elusive characteristic; in fact most people already are resilient, but sometimes it is challenged. Please do not be put off the concept of resilience by its present overuse in popular discussions, where talk around resilience sometimes sounds more like an attempt to shift blame from institutional factors onto the individual.
Resilience can mean that a person
-accepts adversity and moves on
-recovers from adversity and gets back to normal
-grows from adversity, and ends up with something even better than before
Importantly, resilience is something that can be trained. Our resilience is made up both from fixed factors (for example personality), and modifiable factors (for example emotional intelligence, how we view events, the way we think, the choices we make). These modifiable aspects of resilience are key, because we can learn, train and improve resilience.
What do you already have that helps you be resilient? I bet there is much more here than you might think at the start. Use the SSRI resilience toolkit (from Chris Johnstone) to review your existing resilience and create a resilience toolkit for future challenges.
Resilience toolkit (SSRI)
- Strategies, practical things we do. For example going for a walk, reading, getting enough sleep, exercise, jogging, talking, learning
- Strengths we draw upon. This will be your personal strengths and values
- Resources we turn to. Friends, family, colleagues, pets, books, websites
- Insight, ideas, perspectives, sayings we find useful. Some examples are below
Here are some insights that help build resilience.
Resilience as a story
Think of resilience as a story. You are facing a challenge. Where do you want to get to? What’s in the way? What will help you get there? What’s the turning point? What are your choices? What are the next steps? When adversity happens, think about what’s next. “I didn’t pass the exam, and my next step is…”
A growth mindset helps us deal with challenges. More details are here.
Resilience and feelings
Dealing with your feelings when stressed is a key aspect of emotional intelligence.
We can’t change how we feel, so we may as well accept the feelings; we don’t have to like them though! We CAN change how we respond to those feelings. Instead of focusing on our emotions, we can focus on what a solution might be. Accept that a problem has happened, and commit to finding a better way out. Thus, our feelings/distress/dissatisfaction can motivate us to seek change and be even better.
Often we are very unforgiving to ourselves, and instead we should think what a friend would tell us. This helps us develop self-compassion instead of endless self-criticism. Remember that humans have a negativity bias, we preferentially focus on the bad rather than good things.
Emotional Intelligence and mindfulness
If you are emotionally aware, so you can spot your feelings, you can recognise when you are being pushed over the edge and then take strategies to help. Mindfulness and meditation can be helpful to develop our ability to identify feelings and thoughts as they are happening. We can notice what we feel, process those feelings, and choose how we respond. Emotional intelligence is a key predictor of success in life and, like resilience, is something that can be developed.
Resilience and thinking
We need both positive and negative thinking, as negative thinking helps us anticipate problems and make them less likely or less bad. Flexible thinking is better than either positive or negative thinking, as it allows us to tailor our thinking to what is needed in the situation. We can think flexibly, and choose where to go next.
Thinking that is permanent (I always mess up), pervasive (I mess up everything), and personalised (It’s all my fault) may not be helpful. Compare with: I messed up this time, but last time it went really well; I messed up this thing, but the other thing went really well; this is known to be really tricky, everyone else struggles too.
When (A) adversity happens, we need to check what our (B) beliefs are, and then what the (C) consequences of those beliefs are. We can then (D) discuss those beliefs:
- Evidence: What other explanations are there? What are the facts?
- Reframe: What is another way to see this is? Are these thoughts helpful?
- Contingency plan: If this happens, I will do … You can fail better or learn from the event in growth mindset. Aim to get better, rather than be good. Think in terms of “I have not won YET”
- Get a sense of perspective: what’s the best, worst, and most likely thing that will happen?
“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune.
You have passed through life without an opponent-
no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
When examining personal resilience, four processes are key.
What motivates you to deal with life events the way that you do? What are the costs and benefits of your ways of coping? What is the cost/ benefit of one action compared to the alternative action?
How much attention do you pay to life events? Every day, make a note of three good things that happened.
- How do you think about life events? It is not events themselves that affect our emotions, but how we interpret (appraise) those events. Appraising events as a challenge rather than a threat helps build resilience. Examine the different ways that an event can be appraised.
- Benefit finding. Once you are ready, look for benefits that have arisen from a negative event. What has happened has happened, accept it. What we resist, persists. What have you learnt from the event? How has the event prepared you better for the future?
- Optimism. Imagine your best possible self at a future time (5-10 years in the future). Do this daily to develop a positive way of thinking. What would your future self say to your current self?
- Optimistic explanatory style: on the permanence, pervasiveness, personalisation dimensions
- Coping/dealing with negative events. Some coping strategies are adaptive, some maladaptive. Problems arise where there is overcontrol (when we try to control things that are out of our control) or under-control (when we can do things but we don’t). In contrast, having an accurate assessment of our ability to control, and applying that control creates active coping. And accepting when we cannot control is sometimes a good strategy too.
- Coping/dealing with positive events. It is also important that we celebrate positives to build up our resilience bank. Gratitude (for events, people, self), share your happiness, act happy (smile), congratulate self, intentionally remember the event, focus on bodily sensations and remember them.
Knowing your motivators / values, paying attention to life events, thinking with realistic optimism, good coping strategies, and using positive events to build up your resilience bank, are all key in helping you develop your own resilience.
We all face challenges. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything”, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as “she wasn’t fit for television”, Walt Disney lost his newspaper editor job because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”, and Marilyn Monroe was advised by a modelling agency to “get secretarial work or get married”. Yours truly was told he’d never make it into medical school yet graduated top of the class.
You also already are resilient, just sometimes this is challenged. Resilience can be developed and improved, use the above strategies to help you on your resilience journey.
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